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Facial recognition ID: how safe is your face?

With Face ID replacing Touch ID on the iPhone X, your phone’s security has jumped from a one in 50,000 chance of being broken into, to a one in a million chance. Like Touch ID, Face ID uses biometric recognition, but instead of a fingerprint, your face unlocks your phone.

If someone compromised your password and got into your iPhone you can change the password – but you can’t change your face. So is Face ID more secure or just more convenient? Deakin University’s Lecturer of Cyber Security Dr Leo Zhang discusses the safety and benefits of iPhone X’s new technology.

What is Face ID and how does it work?

Using the iPhone X’s TrueDepth camera, the system measures the unique biological characteristics of your face and stores a 3D image for future recognition. ‘Your photo is processed to extract your features into the device, and then this template is compared to deny or accept access at a later time,’ Dr Zhang explains.

When the system ‘enrols’ your face, it uses a Dot Projector that projects 30,000 dots onto your face, creating a very detailed facial map. The camera also captures an infrared image of your face, storing both together. That data ends up in your phone to be used as a comparison – it’s not stored on an Apple database.

Next time you look straight at your iPhone X, it’ll recognise you and open, regardless of whether you’ve grown a beard or are wearing sunglasses. It’s even designed to work in the dark.

'Security is a relative concept, and breaking the system depends on how big your budget is.'

Dr Leo Zhang,
Lecturer in Cyber Security, School of Information Technology, Deakin University

How safe is this new iPhone technology?

According to Dr Zhang, cyber attacks are constantly being developed, so security systems are not perfect. ‘Security is a relative concept, and breaking the system depends on how big your budget is.’

‘When we start to use a new tool like Face ID on a daily basis, the underlying techniques for security purposes will have been examined for years until it is deemed to be secure,’ Dr Zhang explains. ‘Regardless of whether it’s fingerprints, facial recognition or even voice recognition, it’s a bit more difficult to change a permanent feature rather than a simple password.’

It’s not relatively more secure than Touch ID, as it’s still possible for someone to break into your phone if they really want to. Although photocopies and pictures won’t fool it, it’s not out of the question for an identical twin or sibling to unlock your phone using Face ID. In the unlikely event you’re compromised, changing your face would be a bit more challenging than changing your password!

Benefits of iPhone’s facial recognition technology

More convenient and quicker than Touch ID, Face ID uses machine learning, so that it can learn from changes to your face over time. The hard-to-break layer of security keeps your iPhone safe and, like Touch ID, you can bypass Face ID by using a passcode.

It’s a new and more advanced technology that’s simple to use, as there’s no need for you to press your finger on a button or plug in a password. In fact, you don’t even have to think about opening your phone at all with Face ID, as it’s open as soon as you pick it up and look at it.

Another bonus is, that by getting rid of Touch ID, the iPhone X has much more screen space than previous models. It looks sleek and Face ID is so easy to use, you forget it’s even there.


Are you passionate about digital technologies? Look into your digital future and consider studying cyber security at Deakin.

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Dr Leo Zhang
Dr Leo Zhang

Lecturer, School of Information Technology, Deakin University

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